A growing family of medications is used for mood stabilization in bipolar disorder. These medications fall into two broad categories according to likely mechanisms of action. Within the categories, specific drugs may vary in their efficacy for different phases of the disorder. The first category, including lithium, anticonvulsants, and some novel treatments, appears to have mechanisms related to intracellular second messengers. These medications have more pronounced antimanic than antidepressant effects, except for lamotrigine, which has antidepressant effects without precipitating mania. The second group of mood stabilizers is the atypical antipsychotics, which act through dopamine and other monoamines. Olanzapine and in all likelihood other drugs in the class possess marked, acute antimanic properties and possible antidepressant properties, but require further study before they can be used as routine options in long-term care. It is clear that the advent of multiple mood stabilizer candidates has not yet led to a single ideal therapy for bipolar disorder, but rather to options that can be flexibly tailored to the lifetime needs of individual patients, in sequences or combinations, and perhaps in conjunction with other classes of psychotropics.